Campus News

Unprecedented Public-Private Partnership to Support and Promote Vibrant, Innovative Food Economy in Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 2, 2014) — University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto — flanked by state and corporate leaders as well as Kentucky farmers — today announced a $5 million public-private partnership designed to elevate and promote a vibrant, healthy, sustainable food economy in Kentucky.

The Food Connection at the University of Kentucky is an unprecedented public-private partnership between the University of Kentucky and Aramark, housed in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The partnership is designed to leverage the innovation and research of UK and the market position of Aramark to substantively grow a vibrant food economy in Kentucky.

Partnering closely with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky farmers, community partners, and consumers, the Food Connection at UK aims to enhance the production, distribution, and consumption of local and Kentucky Proud food products.

The Food Connection at UK is backed by a $5 million investment by global food leader, Aramark. The partnership includes $1 million to endow undergraduate and graduate internships and fellowships as well as another $250,000 in one-time start-up costs for equipment and programmatic needs, and $250,000 annually over a 15-year term for staff, programming, research grants, and other initiatives in the Food Connection at UK.

"This is an unprecedented public-private partnership and potentially a national model for the study and promotion of food in the Commonwealth," Capilouto said Tuesday. "Agriculture is a way of life in Kentucky. Food is a central issue for our country and our world. The University of Kentucky should be — and is — leading the way in furthering scholarship as well as practical applications for Kentucky producers.

 "In Aramark, we have a partner, who like the university, is committed to Kentucky and one of our most important industries and way of life — agriculture and locally sourced and produced food."

 "We are pleased to invest $5 million in the Food Connection to fund internships and fellowships for undergrad and graduate students, research grants, programming and staffing, as well as other vital support," said president and CEO of Aramark, Eric Foss.

 UK and Aramark recently embarked on a 15-year, $245 million partnership for dining services at the university. The partnership includes an immediate decrease in the price of UK's current student meal plans as well as more than $70 million in facilities investments.

 The university’s dining partnership also contains provisions to grow employment in UK Dining and increase commitments to locally sourced food and cutting-edge sustainability practices.

 “The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Proud program are eager to work with the University of Kentucky and Aramark on this new partnership to increase local food production and purchases," Comer said. "The Food Connection at UK will enhance the educational component of local food production at the College of Agriculture, while the UK Dining contract will give our Kentucky Proud farm families the opportunity to sell more product.  We believe that the UK students, faculty, staff and their families will become ambassadors for Kentucky Proud products and will not only expect access to them on campus, but demand them in groceries, restaurants and retailers across the state. That demand will put more money in the pockets of our farm families and contribute to a vibrant economy in Kentucky.”

 The Food Connection at UK will be housed inside a new dining and student support facility, currently under design, and scheduled for groundbreaking later this month.

 "This partnership further inspires the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment community to enhance the food economy through new ideas to promote and enhance Kentucky’s food producers and their products," said UK CAFE Dean Nancy Cox. "Our community is passionate about the new possibilities afforded by the Food Connection."

Details of the Food Connection partnership announced at a news conference today include:

  • A faculty director and executive director to guide and implement programming, such as an annual Kentucky food summit and youth educational programming;
  • Funding internships and fellowships in food innovation, dietetics and wellness at the undergraduate and graduate levels;
  • Funding food innovation seed grants for faculty research on innovation in food and nutrition efforts as part of larger initiatives to grow a vibrant food economy in the Commonwealth; and
  • Sustaining and expanding collaborations with the UK Butcher Shop, Lemon Tree Restaurant and Food Systems Innovation Center as well as existing undergraduate majors in food and nutrition.

"For nearly 150 years, we have been the Commonwealth's flagship, land-grant institution. Agriculture and farming were a cornerstone of our founding. They are pivotal to why we are here today," Capilouto said. "This collaboration, in partnership with a global leader in food, is a natural extension of our mission and purpose as the state's indispensable institution."

MEDIA CONTACT: Sarah Geegan, (859) 257-5365;